North Koreans in Britain



In an earlier post, we looked at the weak record of the United States in admitting North Koreans to the country. We emphasized the complex diplomatic and legal issues: once North Koreans get South Korean citizenship and are “firmly settled,” it is hard to get a grant of asylum on standard refugee grounds.

Jim Hoare, who has the distinction of establishing the first British Embassy in North Korea in 2001-2002, recently posted some data from the UK on their record. The data is on applications for naturalization and approvals of these applications, and appeared in a written parliamentary answer by Damien Green, Minister of State at the Home Office (Hansard, November 23, 2011, col. C387 W). By way of comparison, the total number of applicants from the ROK during the period was 2501, of which only 79 were approved.

DPRK Applications for Naturalization and Approvals

2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Applicants 3 1 3 8 16 31
Approvals 2 2 2 7 15 28

It looks like the British may be having some of the same problems as the US, including with respect to the citizenship issue. However, it turns out that the British have admitted more North Korean refugees than any other OECD country, almost 600 to date and over triple the number Germany--the second largest recipient--has taken; it falls off from there. The naturalization data via Jim Hoare only reflects the end of the process because refugees need to work for five years to get permanent residency and another year to get citizenship.

A very useful post by Choi Lyong, a PhD student at the London School of Economics, places the British record in comparative perspective using UNHCR data. Choi notes that there has been a slowdown in North Korean asylum seekers in Britain since a little boomlet in the mid-2000s.

Choi suggests that the slowdown may reflect tightening border controls on the part of both China and North Korea. But British rules have tightened as well. Choi offers two reasons, the first being lack of demand for unskilled labor and the absence of a Korean community to absorb the North Koreans. However Choi also speculates that the reasons could be diplomatic. The UK has diplomatic relations with the DPRK and may wish to avoid becoming a battleground over North Korean human rights issues. In September 2010, the Federation of North Korean Residents in Europe (FNKR), a defector organization based in the Great Britain, held a demonstration in front of the DPRK embassy in London; The DailyNK covered the story. Not the kind of publicity the DPRK likes.

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